Teaching a Child to Listen – And not just ‘Hear’

It is a frustrating experience that every parent is likely to have had – a parent speaks, but the child seems to have ‘zoned out’; a parent gives instructions but the child seems oblivious; a parent may even issue a reprimand, but it seems to roll over the child like water off a duck’s back.

So how do you get your child to actually listen when you speak? Here are some do’s and don’ts:

1. Address the child by taking his or her name so that there is no doubt about who you’re addressing.

2. Use a calm and matter of fact tone, don’t wheedle, don’t nag, don’t plead and also keep short of making the tone angry.

All these indicate a feeling of loss of control, which kids are quick to pick up on. Keep the tone firm and one that brooks no refusal so that the child knows you are not kidding or to be trifled with.

3. If you’re giving instructions, make them short and simple. Preferably keep sentences short; of about 6 words or thereabouts.

4. What you’re trying to convey should not only be short, it should also be unambiguous and specific. If you say that homework has to be done, specify that it has to be done right away or that the child has until this evening to clean up their room and so on.

5. Brook no refusal. Not listening is not an option; make this clear. If you have to tell your child that the TV is to be switched off now, tell the child this in no uncertain terms and then wait there until the child has followed that instruction.

It is important for a parent to be authoritative so that the child knows who is in charge and that the authority is not to be undermined.

6. And while you’re being authoritative, be polite as well. Just because a parent is in charge, there is no reason to use orders or commands; a parent can be pleasant and agreeable about issuing instructions.

It is a useful communication lesson for children as well; they will learn to be polite and pleasant when asking for things as well, if their parent sets such an example before them.

7. Be consistent. Consistency is the golden thread that should run through all of your parenting. Just because you had a bad day at work, this is no reason to yell at a child to get their homework done and then on another day, when you’re calmer, speak to the child gently to request them to do their homework.

Inconsistency is confusing and unsettling for children, and doesn’t promote good behavior.

8. Ask the child to repeat the request made, to make sure that he or she heard it and heard it right.

9. Be positive. Instead of forbidding something outright, make it conditional. For instance if a child has to be told not to run in the house, explain that it is best to run in the park and that is best to walk now or when indoors.

10. And finally be a good listener too – if you want your child to listen, you should listen to your child as well.


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